The last Ghost to visit our softening central character is the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Dickens paints the picture of this phantom borrowing from popular images of the Grim Reaper. A dark, shadowy, hooded, silent, larger-than-life character with long bony fingers that merely point in the direction where attention should be given. This journey revolves around the death of two people and the responses elicited. Hospitality workers who were under one of the deceased’s employ, along with his undertaker are witnessed pawning off some goods they lifted from the dead man’s home and person. No remorse at his death – only a little hope that from it they might profit. Another scene shows men Scrooge knows at the Stock Exchange, speaking of the death of a man they all knew. Not one of them felt or displayed any remorse, and they joked that the only reason they might attend a funeral would be to gain a free lunch. Yet another scene depicts a young couple who were in great despair because they were late in paying their mortgage debt, which could very well mean that they were headed for debtor’s prison. The husband speaks news to the wife: the man servicing their loan died! They had more time to get their money together while a new mortgage servicer was determined. The man’s death was truly good news for it meant life for them. Scrooge, not amused that not one person could be found with any remorse that this unknown man’s life was over, asked to be shown someone who truly mourned the loss of another’s life.
Scrooge recognized Bob Cratchit’s house from the previous ghost’s visit. Inside that home there was no shortage of mourning. Not for the old man who died, but for Tiny Tim. The whole family wept. Eavesdropping on the scene, we learn that Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, expressed condolences to Bob, and even offered to help set up his older son with an apprenticeship. Scrooge himself was overcome as well, before heading to a final scene in a run-down, overgrown cemetery, where Scrooge was directed toward one grave in particular. Before he dared look, however, he had some questions to ask of the ghost:
“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?... Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!...
Spirit! Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!...
Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
The story of Jesus’ birth features a visit from a different Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Mary and Joseph, in particular, were both visited separately with unwelcome news. They were going to have a son, but not in a way that brings with it baby showers and well-wishers. Mary’s visit went like this:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.” – Luke 1:26-37 (NLT)
Joseph’s experience went like this:
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:18-21 (NLT)
For Joseph and Mary, the forecast was a genuine mixed bag. Good news for humanity that required them to embrace some very bad news personally. Bad news that was going to exact a heavy toll on their lives yet would be better for them and everyone else in the long run. In each case, they both expressed their intent with their lips: Mary uttered her beautiful, simple, pure faithful vow, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Joseph chose to not speak words of rejection to Mary but welcomed her instead.
Joseph and Mary, like Scrooge, were faced with questions only they could answer: what do I want my life to mean? Will my life have made any real difference? Will anyone mourn my passing? Worse, will some be glad I’ve died?
These are excellent questions for every person to entertain throughout life. Last week we laid to rest Barbara Springsteadah, a wonderful woman of faith who was remembered for more than being an avid Niners fan, Warriors fan, and Cheetoh’s fan. One phrase prevailed to describe Barabara: “unconditional love.” She did not live a life of luxury or wealth. Yet her life deeply impacted those she touched, and her example lives on as one to follow. Especially toward the end of Barb’s life, you would hear about the hope that drove her: she was looking forward to where she was going next. Somehow Barb’s belief in the love of God was so complete and real that she didn’t live marked by fear, but rather compelled to love.
Sometimes we are won to faith out of fear of what will happen after death. Obviously, fear is a huge motivator for all living creatures, and has definitely been used by people of faith to inform decisions from the beginning of time. Jesus and his disciples used a mixture of fear and hope in their rhetoric to wake people up to the most important questions of life. I would encourage you, however, to move away from a fear-based faith as fast as you possibly can. Fear begets fear, not love. Instead, I would encourage you to immerse yourself in the love of God that compelled Jesus and his disciples to love others radically and in some cases recklessly. Scrooge came face to face with the reality of his impending doom, but much more than that, he finally saw clearly how shallow and self-centered his life had become, and what little and poor legacy it left behind. This story is about a shift away from being motivated by fear, and more and more about being motivated by love. When love is the driving force, everything changes. The way we think about ourselves, our resources, and our legacy changes. The way we treat others changes: those who work for us, those we work with, those we call family, even those we don’t know yet – we think of them differently when motivated by love.
Nancy Rynes was an atheist, not believing at all in anything beyond the grave. But then she came face to face with death when she was struck by an SUV while riding her bicycle. She had an out-of-body experience where she saw herself under the SUV, writhing in pain. But she also experienced what she believed to be the presence of God which was marked by warm light and deep love (hear her tell her story here). She was so overwhelmed by the experience that it changed her life and belief. Knowing that what is to come is love beyond limits and imagination, she is now choosing to live in more deeply loving ways, and is choosing not to live motivated by fear.
What and Who we call God is the very source of Life, our Ground of Being. God’s character and nature, more than anything else, is described as love in great depth. Love is our birthplace. Love is our destination. Love is what generates life. Love is the legacy worth leaving behind.
What are you building your life on? Are you more motivated by love or fear? Who are the people who work for you? Who are the people you work with? Who do you call family? Who are the people you do not yet know but are connected to you? In each of these cases, how are you relating? In light of where you’ve come from and where you’re going, what is your response to the vision cast by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come? May it mirror our transforming protagonist:
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”